Diamond in the shade

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The late Annette Funicello may once have frolicked on Waikiki Beach while filming one of her iconic beach party films with Frankie Avalon, but many of her generation can now enjoy a protected view of Diamond Head volcano from the Maunalani Nursing Home and Rehab Center not far from that famous beach on O’ahu island.

A carefully crafted free-standing fabric canopy hovers over a viewing area at the nursing home, framing a spectacular view of Diamond Head. Tropical J’s, of Honolulu, custom designed a bow-framed shade structure with tensioned fabric and cable ties. The client, uncertain of what they wanted, simply asked for sun and rain protection over the outdoor sitting area, a space that borrows from an automobile turnaround and parking area that still needed to function as a drop off point.

To prevent cars from hitting support poles for the canopy, a cantilevered post configuration was adopted for the supports most vulnerable to side swipes from cars using the turnaround at the rear.

Inspiration for the basic form of the canopy was developed by Tropical J’s principal, Gary Barnes, from a concept he developed many years ago based on a cable tensioned barrel form. Using a ring roller bender and a CNC cutter, Tropical J’s bends steel pipe to form the rafters of a barrel-like canopy or awning. By spacing the rafters fairly far apart (more than five feet apart, where typically a conventional awning would have rafters spaced at 30-inch intervals) fewer steel pipes are used and custom bent, thus reducing cost of materials and labor. The tensioned fabric seeks a curved shape that naturally forms a fixed configuration that is stable and does not flutter under wind forces.

To ensure durability of the structure in Hawaii’s saltwater climate, Tropical J’s painted the galvanized steel framing with a special marine grade epoxy paint and a two-part acrylic polyurethane resin topcoat. The fabric covering is a durable PVC-coated polyester fabric tensioned with stainless steel cables in pocket-sleeves to give the necessary curvature to the cladding in two directions (transversal and longitudinal) and prevent ponding.

Aesthetically, the canopy recalls the look of a paraglider flowing down a hill, as it frames Diamond Head in the distance. Like the surrounding landscape, the Maunalani Nursing Home canopy has very few straight lines. All the better for views.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is an architect, design journalist and the former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine.

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